Nirvana, Inspiration and a Fantastic Family Day Out

For art lovers it is nirvana, for gardeners, an inspiration, and for everyone else, Jupiter Artland has all the ingredients for a fantastic family outing – space for the kids to be unleashed, animals within patting distance and mouth-watering cake.

Nicky and Robert Wilson opened the gates to their Midlothian estate at Bonnington House six years ago, turning it into a sculpture park with the tagline “contemporary art orbiting Edinburgh”.

Although their Jacobean house isn’t open to public, the Wilson’s have shared most of the 100-acre grounds with paying visitors, and their mini menagerie, complete with a llama, several donkeys, chickens and a pig.

However, it is the specially commissioned artworks designed for their “garden of discovery” which are the main draw. Each piece has been designed for a carefully chosen location in the woods or fields around the house, some blending into the natural environment, and others standing in stark contrast to the Midlothian countryside.

The Wilsons are aiming high – they want every school pupil in Scotland to visit for free (education is a big part of Jupiter Artland). They have also secured original artwork by renowned artists including Andy Goldsworthy and Ian Hamilton Finlay, who both have several artworks scattered through the gardens, alongside works by up-and-coming artists like Glasgow School of Art graduate, Sara Barker.

Visitors book in at a converted steading-cum-shop-cum exhibition space (once used to display 10,0000 decaying roses by young artist Anya Gallaccio). There they pick up a treasure-hunt style map of the gardens and can hire an audio guide with stories of each artwork narrated by Nicky Wilson and the artists. For the first-time visitor this gives a useful background to the inspiration and conception of the sculptures. This year an app has been introduced giving an alternative for smartphone users.

How visitors follow the trail is up to them – it loops in a figure of eight through stunning scenery, with views of the Forth Rail Bridge from Antony Gormley’s Firmament – a giant, crawling ironwork man who looks as if it is part of the bridge come to life.

Charles Jencks’ Life Mounds will be familiar to those who have visited the Dean Art Gallery – great sweeping mounds of grass-covered earth, almost like giant jelly moulds. There are few rules at Jupiter Artland – one of them being not to roll down the delicate slopes, however following the paths to investigate the sculptures at each summit satisfies even the most energetic.

From the haunting Weeping Girls by Laura Ford to the spider’s web of Shane Waltener’s Over Here, the diversity of artworks means there is something for everyone.

Completing the trail takes around 1.5 hours, allowing for plenty of stops to study the artworks and pat the donkeys.
At the end (or earlier if you can’t resist) a pit stop at the funky silver caravan to order refreshments is a must. In good weather, visitors can sit outside, of if the Scottish summer is typical, the indoor seated areas gives another chance to view some more art – Peter Liversidge’s Proposals.

Jupiter Artland is open Thursdays to Sundays until 28 September, and Monday 25 August. Adults £8.50, children £4.50. Kids go free weekend – 20-22 June 2014. Free bus from Edinburgh city centre on Fridays and Saturdays during August. More information at

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